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EDITIONS
Friday, 16 August, 2002, 06:48 GMT 07:48 UK
Tories call for net paedophile laws
New laws making it an offence to use internet chatrooms to "groom" children for sexual abuse should be urgently introduced, the Conservatives have said.


I hope this won't be a matter of great dispute

Oliver Letwin
Although the government is already considering the measure, the shadow home secretary, Oliver Letwin, says he believes the case for new legislation has already been made.

He also wants increased penalties for paedophiles who refuse to unlock encrypted information being stored on the internet.

A Home Office task force is currently considering new legislation to protect children from paedophiles who try to contact them in person, on the phone or via the internet.

'Precipitating action'

So far the government has not said if or when this might be introduced but it could form part of a much wider review of the laws on sexual offences, which could result in new legislation in the next Parliamentary session.

Holly and Jessica
Police feared Holly and Jessica had been contacted in a chatroom
But Mr Letwin, said a new offence of internet grooming should be introduced immediately.

Parents should also have the right to get an injunction in the courts if they think an adult is using the internet to contact a child to entice them into sex, he said.

"Even if the police do uncover such actions, in themselves they are not presently illegal," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

So although abduction was illegal, the actions that might lead up to it were not, he added.

Mr Letwin admitted policing the internet was difficult but he said "some things can be done quite quickly and what we are trying to do is precipitate action".

He added: "I hope this won't be a matter of great dispute and we can move quickly on this."

The Tories would be coming up with further proposals in September, he said.

Fears unfounded

The case of missing 10-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman has brought the issue of paedophiles contacting children through chatrooms back to the fore.

It was feared the Cambridgeshire schoolgirls had been lured to meet someone who had befriended them on the net.

Police now believe this is not the case, after an analysis of Holly's PC showed the pair had not been in a chatroom on the day of their disappearance.

Lure

However, police and child protection organisations say it is all too easy for a paedophile to enter a chatroom, often posing as a teenager, and win a youngster's confidence.

They then suggest a face to face meeting.

In the past two years, at least 12 children have been sexually assaulted by people who first contacted them via the internet.

Although their attackers were sent to prison, child protection campaigners say the law needs strengthening.

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Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin
"At the moment there is no specific offence of internet grooming"
See also:

10 Aug 02 | Politics
19 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
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